The numbers that fooled Mitt Romney

RomneyBy Jessica Huseman

Mitt Romney’s team was confident he would win the Nov. 6 election. Confident enough that they didn’t even bother to write a concession speech — though they would ultimately have to, albeit holed up in a hotel room 10 minutes before Romney walked on stage. So what were these polling numbers that had his team so fooled?

The Romney Team’s internal polling was only moderately well-publicized in the days leading up to the election. They said openly that their polls showed them winning North Carolina, Florida and Virginia (of those he only won North Carolina) as well as a few other unnamed swing states.

A few days ago, The New Republic answered the “unnamed swing states” question, as well as a few others: how much the Romney Team believed their candidate to be leading in those few unmentioned swing states, where these numbers told Romney to go in the final days of the campaign, and why they seemed so confident in their data despite it differing greatly from most publicly available data.

The article and details the team’s “internal polls conducted on Saturday, November 3, and Sunday, November 4, for Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, Minnesota, Iowa, Colorado and New Hampshire.”

While the entire article is worth a read, here is author Noam Scheiber’s analysis of the numbers. The “Newhouse” Scheiber refers to is Neil Newhouse, Romney’s chief pollster.

“The first thing you notice is that New Hampshire and Colorado are pretty far off the mark. In New Hampshire, the final internal polling average has Romney up 3.5 points, whereas he lost by 5.6. In Colorado, the final internal polling average has Romney up 2.5 points; he lost by 5.4. ‘I’m not sure what the answer is,’ Newhouse told me, explaining that his polls were a lot more accurate in most of the other swing states. ‘The only ones we had that really seemed to be off were Colorado—a state that even Obama’s people tweeted they thought it was going to be one of their closest states—and the New Hampshire numbers, which seemed to bounce a lot during the campaign.’

This is mostly true, but not entirely. Set aside Florida and Virginia, for which I don’t have internal poll numbers, but which the campaign apparently believed it was poised to win. Among those I do have, the Iowa number is also questionable, showing the race tied even though Romney ended up losing by almost 6 points. If Romney’s internal polling number in Iowa was roughly accurate, it would imply that Obama won every single undecided voter in the state, something that’s highly unlikely. (Newhouse didn’t respond when I emailed him a follow-up question about Iowa.)

Together, New Hampshire, Colorado, and Iowa go most of the way toward explaining why the Romney campaign believed it was so well-positioned. When combined with North Carolina, Florida, and Virginia—the trio of states the Romney campaign assumed were largely in the bag—Romney would bank 267 electoral votes, only three shy of the magic number. … While none of this should have been grounds for the sublime optimism that leads you to eschew a concession speech … you see how the campaign might conclude that the pieces were falling into place.

So what’s the lesson here? Perhaps the ubiquitous “don’t count your chickens before they hatch” bit is too storybook, so instead we’ll say “don’t count on your polls unless they are independently verified.”

Posted by on December 3, 2012. Filed under Elections,Media. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. You can leave a response or trackback to this entry

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